Goodness but it seems that we've been on the road longer and that this couldn't just be day 2, but there it is. We landed in Middle Earth yesterday, which actually seems a week ago, and today we were in Hobbiton itself, in Matamata, and entered Bilbo and Frodo's hole at Bag End and we all fit into it, even though it's not the full dwelling we see in the films or in the book, which was built on set in studio in Wellington, NZ.
Our tour guides took us in 2 groups up and down the amazing site which is in the heart of a sheep and cattle farm of 500 hectares. They provided us with huge golf size umbrellas in pairs and we spent almost two hours hearing details about the construction of the site and filming of the scenes depicting life in the Shire. We stood under the Party Tree where Bilbo made his farewell speech, a huge tree almost a hundred feet high and almost ten feet in diameter!
We saw a sheep shearing demonstration and two of our young women got to bottle feed a couple of lambs three months old. Awwwwww........ they're so cute!!!!!!!!!!!!! exclaimed all the youth. But all was not joy and comfort, as we were exposed to some cold weather last night and today.
Last night we went out to join Fr. Tony pastor of St. Benedict's Parish up Queen Street in Auckland at 5:45 and our pilgrims were a hit with the local congregation who were thrilled to meet us. In fact Fr. Tony and Eva and her husband joined us for supper at Denny's but while a few got lifts with Fr. Tony and Eva in two vehicles the others trooped through wind-driven rain for a 20 minute treck only to find ourselves in a supercooled airconditioned restaurant, and try as we might, nothing could or was done about it. Then we had to walk back, but again Fr. Tony and Eva with her husband's van came to our rescue and in the end only the leaders walked all the way back. I took a chill and have had something going on in my throat since then but have been taking Echinachea remedy to fend off anything serious. The jury is still out.....
Michael had to forbid anyone wearing sandals or going barefoot until the end of our pilgrimage at Cairns, where it will be warm enough for that. At Hobbiton today near Matamata we were again out in the weather and despite taking better precautions, several found themselves shivering and were glad to get back into the heat of the bus. Yet, for all that, the majority of our youth as I write these lines have been having a great time swimming and diving in the heated pool or heating up their bones in the hot tub steaming in the cold night air... with the exuberance and stamina that only youth enjoy, at least to that extent and with that much energy..... Oh, to be young again, eh?
After Hobbiton, we drove an hour or so through awe-inspiring rolling hills covered with sheep - they number in the millions here - and gullies and mountains that remind one somewhat of Ireland or Scotland and yet with a difference... the vegetation and trees are different.... We stopped for lunch in Matamata, the main town in this rural sheep and dairy countryside, and guess where we ate, after travelling some 20,000 kilometers? You got it, McDonald's! I was so hungry I didn't care where we ate! Being out in the intermittent showers and chilly wind does that to your appetite!
Well, by then it was around 4 pm when we were back in the bus and on our way here to the hotel, a very nice hotel I might add. Unloading of backpacks, gathering in the lobby around Michael, giving out of keys to our regular twosomes adult/minor, up to the rooms with our loads to reconnoitre our rooms, and back down for a meeting to see where we go from here. The leaders met first and we decided to celebrate Mass first, a Saturday weekday Mass, followed by supper, followed by frolicking in the pool etc. We had a lovely celebration of the Holy Eucharist with everyone participating in the preparations and the celebration itself... great joy, robust and enthusiastic exchange of the Lord's peace, profound silence and recollection before Holy Communion, extended silence and personal adoration and openness to the Lord, reading of the daily reflection in Magnificat, this one by Catherine of Sienna.... oh joy!
15 minutes to put things back in our rooms and then powwow, at which the consensus was to order pizza in, and while we wait the youth enjoyed the invigorating heated pool and hot tub, now they've all come back in and run up to change, and any moment the pizza will arrive. Well, there you have a glimpse of our days, and may you continue to be open to the grace of these days which bind us together in spiritual communion across tens of thousands of kilometers, for there is no separation of distance or time in the Lord! Pax + Caritas to all!